They're Laughing at Us, Even in Borneo....

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President Clinton traveled halfway around the world to Borneo for the latest Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, but he couldn't avoid the same questions that were dogging him back home — what's going on with this crazy U.S. election? The President laughed about it at a speech to business leaders — "I know I can safely predict that this will be my last summit. I just don't know who will be here next year." Russian president Vladimir Putin said he was "anxiously" awaiting the the outcome, and even "Pete" Peterson, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, where Clinton is expected Wednesday, joked to reporters, "So, I guess what we're going to talk about here is the Florida elections."

Although many of the Asian leaders gathered here are a little jittery over America's electoral chaos, they're all pretty confident that the U.S. will ultimately get its president. And they're resigned to the fact that, like many before him (including the current one), that president will focus first on domestic issues and only later get around to realizing that there's a big ol' world out there, of which he's the de facto leader. In the meantime, there is no small amount of schadenfreude over America's predicament. After years of lecturing other countries — including many in attendance here — about how they should conduct their internal affairs, the U.S. has been taken down a notch.

Of course, there is one leader here whom Clinton is uniquely positioned to advise. Philippine president Joseph Estrada has just been impeached by his Congress and is awaiting a possible trial by the Philippine Senate. Even though Estrada, a former movie star and notorious womanizer long before he was elected, is accused of bribery and kickbacks in connection with an illegal lottery, the parallels with Clinton's own experience should nonetheless prove useful. During the annual group photograph — known disrespectfully by the Press Corps as the Silly Shirts Photo, since the hosts often require the leaders to don local native garb — Clinton could whisper some hard-earned wisdom in his ear. Like maybe the importance of a good spin operation and lots of lawyers and, above all, don't issue categorical denials on national TV until you know what ALL the evidence is.